Boal, Augusto- Notes Essay, Research Paper
Brazilian Augusto Boal was raised in Rio de Janeiro. He was formally trained in chemical engineering and attended Columbia University in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Although his interest and participation in theatre began at an early age, it was just after he finished his doctorate at Columbia that he was asked to return to Brazil to work with the Arena Theatre in S?o Paulo. His work at the Arena Theatre led to his experimentation with new forms of theatre that would have an extraordinary impact on traditional practice.
Birth of the Spect-Actor Prior to his experimentation, and following tradition, audiences were invited to discuss a play at the end of the performance. In so doing, according to Boal, they remained viewers and “reactors” to the action before them. In the 1960’s Boal developed a
process whereby audience members could stop a performance and suggest different actions for the actors, who would then carry out the audience suggestions. But in a now legendary development, a woman in the audience once was so outraged the actor could not understand her suggestion that she came onto the stage and showed what she meant. For Boal this was the birth of the spect-actor (not spectator) and his theatre was transformed. He began inviting audience members with suggestions for change onto the stage to demonstrate their ideas. In so doing, he discovered that through this participation the audience members became empowered not only to imagine change but to actually practice that change, reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action. Theatre became a practical vehicle for grass-roots activism.
Boal as a Threat
Because of Boal’s work, he drew attention as a cultural activist. But the military coups in Brazil during the 1960’s looked upon such activity as a threat. Shortly after the publication of Boal’s first book, The Theatre of the Oppressed, in 1971, Boal was arrested, tortured, and eventually exiled to Argentina, then self-exiled to Europe. While in Paris, Boal continued for a dozen years to teach his revolutionary approach to theatre, establishing several Centers for the Theatre of the Oppressed. In 1981 he organized the first International Festival of the Theatre of the Oppressed in Paris.
Return to Rio
Following the removal of the military junta in Brazil, Boal returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1986 where he continues to reside. He has established a major Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed there (CTO – Rio) and has formed over a dozen companies which develop community-based performances. The vehicles for these presentations are Forum Theatre and Image Theatre. Forum Theatre relies upon presentation of short scenes that represent problems of a given community such as gender for a conference on women or racial stereotyping for a class on racism. Audience members interact by replacing characters in scenes and by improvising new solutions to the problems being presented. Image theatre uses individuals to sculpt events and relationships sometimes to the accompaniment of a narrative.
Boal at ATHE
In 1992, Boal was invited to be the keynote speaker for the National Conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the national association for teachers of theatre in higher education in the United States, with international connections to Canada, Europe, South America, and increasingly Asia. His address, together with three 5-hour long workshops during the conference, infused the participants with both a desire to use the techniques and a workable understanding of how to take the approaches to their schools and communities. Perhaps no other name now appears as often as does Boal’s in the annual conference program.
Second Book Published
In 1992, Boal also published his second major work, Games for Actors and Non-Actors (Routledge Press). This is a splendid basic introduction to the entire range of TO theory and practice, and useful to people both experienced and inexperienced in theatre making.
Boal as Politician; Festival of TO
In the fall of 1992, Boal ran as an at-large candidate for the position of Vereador of Rio, a position similar to a City Council seat in the United States. Over one thousand candidates ran for forty-five seats; Boal was one of those elected. Because of the increased visibility brought about by his winning a seat, he was able to obtain funding to hold an international festival for the first time in Brazil in July, 1993. The Seventh International Festival of the Theatre of the Oppressed attracted one hundred, fifty Theatre of the Oppressed practitioners from around the world in an extraordinary confluence of languages, theatre styles, and social issues. The Eighth such Festival — the Ripple Effect sponsored by Mixed Company Theatre — just recently concluded in Toronto, Canada, and was held from May 29 to June 8, 1997. Three hundred practitioners again from around the world attended. One of the featured performances was by the company Boal directs in his hometown, the CTO – Rio. This performance and the magnanimity of the CTO-Rio group was one of the true highlights of this extraordinary gathering.
Boal in Omaha: Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference
1994 saw Boal’s first arrival in Omaha, Nebraska, as he presented an “introductory” workshop to students, faculty, and regional social service personnel. In 1995 Boal keynoted the Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conference sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and presented numerous community and educational workshops demonstrating his theatrical approaches. At this same time, Boal’s third major book, The Rainbow of Desire (Routledge Press), was published, which elaborates a psycho-therapeutic application of the Boal techniques, especially Image Theatre.
Boal & Freire
Over many years, Boal continued to strengthen his relationship with liberatory educator, Paulo Freire, author of the acclaimed Pedagogy of the Oppressed. At the Second Annual Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conference in Omaha in March 1996, both men appeared together on a public platform to reflect on liberatory education and to answer questions from an audience of around one thousand people. Because of their several necessary flights for personal and family safety during the 1960’s -1980’s, this co-appearance was the first time Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire shared a common public stage. Sadly, Paulo Freire passed away in early May, 1997. Said Boal: “I am very sad. I have lost my last father. Now all I have are brothers and sisters.” The Third Annual Conference of Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed was held in mid-May, 1997, where Boal led workshops in Forum Theatre. Several of the pieces developed kicked off the Conference with much interaction, reflection, action, and discussion from the conference attendees. Boal also concluded the Conference with an image exercise which amounted to a fascinating visual “critique” of the Conference itself.
Though he lost his bid for re-election in the fall of 1996, while in office, Vereador Boal developed a Forum type of theatre — which he called Legislative Theatre — to work at the neighborhood level to identify the key problems in the city. Using the Forum concept, he employed the dynamics of theatre to discuss what kinds of legislation needed to be enacted to address community problems. The resulting discussions and demonstrations became the basis for actual legislation put forward by Boal in the Chamber of Vereadors. Current reports indicate that Boal is working diligently on a new book that will, as have the others, document this phase of Boal’s ongoing activity.
Boal in England
The summer of 1997 found Boal in England where he worked with the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. The RSC has asked Boal to employ his Rainbow of Desire techniques in working with them on a production of Hamlet. Boal is considering a second RSC proposal to direct a Hamlet in London in the summer of 1998. Typical of Boal, he is not interested in the central story but in the characters who are usually cut from the play, and is thus thinking of a text of the marginal characters, the ones without much power. He says it is similar to the national dish of Brazil which is based on a stew made by slaves of the leavings from the masters table.
In August, 1997, Boal was awarded the Career Achievement Award by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education during their national conference in Chicago. At the Conference, Boal conducted yet another of his five-hour workshops for conference attendees as well as received the coveted Career Achievement honor.
Boal’s International Travels
Traveling extensively between Rio, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, and now North America on a substantial working tour, Boal labors tirelessly to make his processes available to as many people as he can reach. December 1998 found him in England offering his remarkable Legislative Theatre not only as a model of public performance, but as a communication network on the Internet. For this reason, the entire performance day was on-line on the World Wide Web so that people around the world could respond.
Boal went on a first major tour of the US in February and March, 1999, traveling to the following universities and colleges: New College in Sarasota, FL; Vassar; Dartmouth; Colby College; University of Georgia; Florida State; and Kansas State. New College, Dartmouth, and Kansas State, and perhaps others of these, now have student TO companies working regularly on Boal techniques.
Recently Boal has been devoting considerable time to directing a samba version of the grand opera Carmen, his first formal directing project in Brazil since his exile in 1970. Early reports indicate that the event was thrilling, rich in the sounds and rhythms of Brazilian culture while following the core of the original work.
The objective is always to leave behind at least a core of people who can offer Boal-style workshops, analysis, and ideas. Hopefully there are hundreds and even thousands of people carrying out this liberatory approach to community animation.
The writings and workshops of Augusto Boal have influenced many theatre makers and social change organizations around the world. Combining many of the aspects of IMPROVISATION with some of the techniques associated with J.L. MORENO’s concept of SOCIODRAMA, Boal’s unique synthesis extends Brecht’s Epic Theater concepts into a new realm of practicality. Groups which use Boal’s methods vary widely.
David Diamond and Headlines Theatre have been doing TO work (they now call it Theatre for Living) in Canada for the last 13 years. They do 15-20 sessions per year, including a recent series on gay and lesbian youth and homophobia. They have also done work about biodiversity, AIDS, and racism. Past work includes: — a series of workshops, using Cop-in-the-Head and Rainbow of Desire techniques to present a a Power Play on racism, focusing on the Tl’atz’en Nation, in central British Columbia, with workshops in Campbell River, Vancouver, Mount Currie, and Tofino/Ucleut; –a Skill Development Workshop on techniques for anti-racism and multicultural workers in Vancouver in November 1995; –youth workshops in substance abuse, teen pregnancy, racism, and violence in Hazelton and Fort St. James in Oct. 1996. –a workshop for docents at the Vancouver Holocaust Center to help students comprehend the current exhibition in non- threatening way; –Reclaiming Our Spirits, a community-based theater project which helps individuals and communities deal with the effects of Canada’s Indian Residential School legacy.; –a site-specific program called “Safer Communities, Safer Campuses,” which developed a forum play, then toured it to several communities from late February through March 1996. Their college work continues with a personal safety workshop at Capilano College.
In February 1996 David Diamond of Headlines was given the City of Vancouver’s First Cultural Harmony Award for his work in community-based theatre, used to explore such issues as diversity, racism, homophobia, and refugee concerns.
On the last Friday of every month, Headlines hosts a Theatre for Living Cabaret at Havana, 1212 Commercial Drive at 8 PM; tickets are $5 or Pay What-You-Can. Everything comes from the audience!
TOL workshops and performances for a wide range of groups and private organizations. A few recent
projects have included:
– “Uprooting Racism” at Washington State University
– “Sexuality & Risk” with Lummi tribal youth
– “Sexual Harassment” trainings for the Seattle Public Schools
– “Working with Youth” — Americorps
Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire, and Peter McLaren were the featured speakers at a conference on “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” held in Omaha, Nebraska from March 21-23, 1996. This was the first ever appearance of Freire and Boal together. The conference featured over 350 workshops, performances, demonstrations, debates, and dialogues. Doug Paterson coordinated a parallel series of TO workshops led by Boal before and after the conference period:
“The conference was extraordinary…Perhap upward of 900 people, perhaps as much as 25% people of color including a contingent of 20-25 First Nations people. There was tension, distrust, joy, insight, pressure, confrontations, dialoque, and a final sense of genuine achievement, if I may be so bold as to characterize a larger experience from my own personal one.” – Doug Paterson.
In Boal’s work around forum theatre, invisible theatre and the theatre of the oppressed we see some fascinating expressions of socio-cultural animation. He writes of theatre as the art of looking at ourselves:
The Theatre of the Oppressed is theatre in this most archaic
application of the word. In this usage, all human beings are Actors (they
act!) and Spectators (they observe!). They are Spect-Actors….
Everything that actors do, we do throughout our lives, always and
everywhere. Actors talk, move, dress to suit the setting, express ideas,
reveal passions – just as we do in our everyday lives. The only
difference is that actors are conscious that they are using the
language of theatre, and are thus better able to turn it to their
advantage, whereas the woman and man in the street do not know
that they are speaking theatre. (Boal 1992: xxx).
In these words we can see some immediate connections to what we do as informal and community educators.
What Boal has done is to work in workshops – perhaps with workers from a particular factory
(Forum Theatre) or to take performance to the street (Invisible Theatre) where people are confronted with what at first sight appear to be events – but are revealed as theatre. He begins by seeking to integrate the group and to explore political and economic questions (2 days). In this there is an emphasis on exercise – ‘actors must work on their bodies to get to know them better and to make them more expressive’ (ibid.: 1). The group would then work for a couple of days on preparing ’scenes’ (through exercises, games etc.). On the fifth day they may take the scenes to the street (Invisible Theatre) and then on sixth make a presentation to an audience (Forum Theatre).
What we can see in this is a fairly straightforward process that carries within in many of the concerns and a significant amount of the analysis that runs through Freire’s work. For example on dialogue: ‘I believe it is more important to achieve a good debate than a good solution’ (ibid. 230). However, two of the fascinating elements of this approach concern the animating force of performance; and the focus on emotion. In the case of the former, engaging in performance can bring forward questions, experiences and issues that are difficult to express in initially in words. It can reveal elements for the group to work on.
Second, Boal has picked up on the concerns of Stanislavski and the need to move beyond the mechanisation of the actor’s body into allowing emotion to shape the final form of the actor’s interpretation of a role. However, he is also at some concerns to explore that emotion. ‘The important thing about emotion is what it signifies. We cannot talk about emotion without reason or, conversely, about reason without emotion; the former is chaos, the latter pure abstraction’. (ibid.: 48).
I have focused here on Boal so that we can get a little of the flavour of socio-cultural animation. The links with Freire are there – we have a Theatre of the Oppressed as against a Pedagogy. But what we have been talking about here is essentially a short-run exercise. The associationalism we began with, is much more long term – and may involve this form of intervention – but it also entails an active appreciation of ourselves as animateurs, educators and agents of formation.
Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal developed The Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) during the 1950s and 1960s. In an effort to transform theater from the “monologue” of traditional performance into a “dialogue” between audience and stage, Boal experimented with many kinds of interactive theater. His explorations were based on the assumption that dialogue is the common, healthy dynamic between all humans, that all human beings desire and are capable of dialogue, and that when a dialogue becomes a monologue, oppression ensues. Theater then becomes an extraordinary tool for transforming monologue into dialogue. “While some people make theater,” says Boal, “we all are theater.”